Peru: justice sought in slaying of mine opponent

On the morning of Sept. 7, as workers arrived by bus at the giant Yanacocha mine in Peru’s northern region of Cajamarca, agents of the National Police Criminal Investigation Directorate (DIRINCRI) arrived and arrested employee Jesús Elías Salcedo Becerra, 38, as suspected intellectual author of the Nov. 1, 2006 slaying of peasant ecologist Esmundo Becerra Cotrina, gunned down in a hail of 17 bullets while grazing his livestock at Yanacanchilla community, La Encañada district, Cajamarca province. National Police spokesman William Vásquez called the arrest a “preliminary detention,” saying that an investigation is underway in cooperation with local offices of the Fiscalía, Peru’s public prosecutor. Relatives of Becerra Cotrina arrived as Salcedo was being taken away, and fiercely beat him before being restrained by police and Yanacocha security.

Salcedo has been employed as a worker at the mine since 2002. There had been one other arrest in the case, shortly after the slaying, that of army deserter Fortunato Rodriguez Chuquimango, who was convicted as one of the gunmen in the assassination—but freed in 2008 when a judge reviewing the case found insufficient evidence. Yanacanchilla community leaders charge that Becerra Cotrina was targeted for opposing expansion of the mine onto local campesino lands. Yanacocha company spokesman Roberto del Águila said of Salcedo’s detention: “We do not know the reasons for the arrest in the investigation.” He said the company would fully cooperate with authorities. (La Republica, Sept. 8)

Local communities in Cajamarca continue to report grave ecological impacts from the giant Yanacocha gold and copper mine. Last month, communities that maintain a communal trout farm at La Raimina, in the Chaylluagón Canyon, found that some 30,000 fish had died overnight. The fishery is downstream from Laguna San Nicolás de Chaylluagón, where Yanacocha had begun building a dyke to impound waters for a new reservoir in preparation for a controversial expansion of the mine into new lands at Conga. The campesinos who maintain the fishery charged that the dyke had choked off the supply of water to Quebrada Chaylluagón, the creek that runs through the canyon and feeds their pond. (La Republica, Aug. 17)

Campesino leaders from Hualgayoc province on Sept. 6 held a public gathering in Cajamarca city where they read an open letter they had prepared for President Ollanta Humala demanding that he put a halt to Yanacocha’s preparatory work for the Conga project, which has not been officially approved yet. Manuel Ramos, president of the Defense Front of El Tambo, a village in Hualgayoc, said, “We do not want reservoirs on our lagunas… We want projects approved by our local authorities and not by the central government, or the company which is trying to trick our communities… The project is unviable for us.” Community leaders pledged their readiness to resist the Conga project, many intoning: “It is better to die by bullets than for want of water.” (Celendín Libre, Sept. 6)

Also Sept. 6, the Victims Association, representing survivors of Yanacocha’s  devastating 2000 mercury spill at Choropampa (Magdalena district, Cajamarca province), called upon the company and its principal investor, US-based Newmont Mining, to finally address all liability claims from the disaster before moving ahead with the Conga project or any new mineral development in the region. Pedro Alvarez, president of the Victim’s Association, said, “The spill of mercury along more than 27 kilometers of the Jan Juan highway produced a radical change in our lives. The ecosystem and the health of thousands of inhabitants of the place are still suffering today the consequences of the grave contamination.” (Celendín Libre, Sept. 6)

That same day, officials from the national Health Ministry’s Executive Directorate of Environmental Health (DESA) reported finding elevated levels of toxic endosulfans in water being treated at El Milagro plant, run by the public-private partnership SEDACAJ to purify the water supply for the city of Cajamarca. Maintained jointly by Yanacocha and the Health Ministry, SEDACAJ was established to treat waters from the Río Grande, a main source of municipal water for the city, which originates on highlands now being used by the mine. Local DESA official Nanci Gomero Quinto said that greater quantities of treatment chemicals are needed due to increasing degradation of the river’s watersheds, adding the waters at the plant contained 270 times the level of chlorine usually needed for purification. (RPP via Celendín Libre, Sept. 6)

Community leaders are also expressing concern about new mining projects being prepared for the region. Toronto-based Southern Legacy Minerals Inc last month filed a technical report with Lima for the company’s AntaKori Project, a massive copper, lead, zinc, silver and gold mine proposed for Hualgayoc province. (Andina, Aug. 27; NASDAQ, Aug. 20)

Attacks on campesino leaders also continue. Dante Sánchez Villegas, president of the Federation of Rondas Campesinas (peasant self-defense patrols) in Cutervo province, was shot in his own home in the provincial seat Aug. 27, after two gunmen broke down the door. He was hit in the leg, and the gunmen fled after firing. With a bullet lodged in his femur, he was transferred to a hospital in Chiclayo, Lambayeque region, the nearest large city. A motive has not been established, but Sánchez reported that he had been physically attacked by unknown assailants a week earlier. (, Cajamarca, Aug. 28; RPPAndina Radio, Cajamarca, Aug. 27)